John Wayne’s family sues Duke University over the word ‘Duke’

The Blue Devils are taking on bourbon. According to NPR, John Wayne’s estate has been attempting to market alcohol products, including a brand of bourbon using the late actor’s nickname, likeness, and signature on the label. Duke University objected through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, saying that they do “not permit use of confusingly similar marks [of its brand] associated with unapproved goods or services.” The Wayne estate has responded with a federal suit arguing that Duke University does not own the name “in all contexts for all purposes.”

Wayne biographer James Olson told NPR that the actor had claimed the name of “Duke” since he was a young boy. However, use of the nickname has been a source of conflict for the Wayne Estate since 2005. The Washington Post reports the estate and Duke University have argued over the use of the nickname for purposes such as a John Wayne-themed restaurant and related merchandise. A University spokesman was quoted that, “while we admire and respect John Wayne’s contributions to American culture, we are also committed to protecting the integrity of Duke University’s trademarks.”

In the NPR article, Reid Wilson, adjunct professor of trademark law at Ohio State University, writes that while big companies with trademarks are often cast as “villains” in suits from smaller parties, they have a “right to enforce their intellectual property.”

The Wayne estate plans to continue producing the alcohol while making their case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.